Charmaine Ruddock knew it would take more than a video to change the Bronx’s health care issues.
A few years ago, she recalls the Bronx District Public Health Office was working on a video to respond to an annual report published by the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps initiative from the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It was designed to study how people’s health is influenced by where they live.
In that report, the Bronx was in last place in its health status compared to 61 other counties in New York. And it’s been that way since 2010.
Ruddock, project director of Bronx Health Reach — an organization dedicated to getting rid of racial and ethnic health disparities in the South Bronx — had just learned about this ranking and was inspired to figure out another way to bring awareness to health care issues in the borough.
“A group of us decided it wasn’t enough for us just to do the video,” she said. “It wasn’t enough to just remark knowingly that the Bronx was 62 out of 62. We thought that we needed a more thoughtful response to it.”
Ruddock and her team launched “Not 62: Campaign for a Healthy Bronx” in 2014, to push for health initiatives that will improve the borough.
Through the years, Ruddock and her fellow supporters have worked to bring awareness to health issues affecting people in the borough, especially in the South Bronx. They even went as far as to publicly ask Mayor Bill de Blasio for a private meeting during a Bronx town hall this past April — which he agreed to have.
Yet for months, Bronx Health Reach and Not 62 were unable to get that face time with the mayor they desired. Ultimately, they met with Herminia Palacio, the city’s deputy mayor for health and human services, last September.
“We thought that it was a good start,” Ruddock said. “We consider it not enough that we need to have this meeting with the mayor to quite explicitly (ask), ‘How is he prioritizing the Bronx? How is prioritizing the borough in the city that he’s responsible for?’”
Despite waiting around for a meeting with de Blasio, Bronx Health Reach and Not 62 couldn’t wait any longer to make their voices heard, especially right before the 2018 midterm elections. Within two weeks of one of their meetings, they planned a rally that took place on the steps of the Bronx Supreme Court on Oct. 29.
More than 60 people showed up to advocate for a healthier Bronx. Since the rally, Ruddock said she has not heard from any elected officials she had hoped to hear from, like de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
However, the biggest takeaway was that it made her and the participants energized to continue fighting for a response from more elected officials.
“It was enough to say that there is a group in the community that is going to hang on with every ounce of strength that we have until we see some real steps being taken by our policymakers,” Ruddock said.
When it comes to how other parts of the Bronx like Riverdale play a role in its health ranking, it’s all about putting on a united front, according to Theresa Oliver, a senior reverend at the Mount Zion Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Soundview.
“Riverdale is part of the Bronx, and we need to come together as one,” she said. “We can’t separate ourselves. That’s what’s happening now. We’re separating ourselves and we’re not making any making progress on that. We’ve got to work together.”
For Riverdale resident Barbara Estrin, it’s a similar sentiment of unity and understanding.
“When I have a cold, I’m miserable,” she said. “Imagine the misery you feel if you had to feel sick, and in addition to that, you had to worry about how you were going to pay for getting well.”
But it’s also about stepping back and looking at the bigger picture.
“It’s not just health care,” Estrin said. “It has to do with everything. Levels of income, with affordable housing, with education. All those are connected and the Bronx desperately needs attention from the rest of the city, and the rest of the state.”
But when it really comes down to why good health care is worth fighting for, Oliver has one simple question: “Our health is important, because if we don’t have our health, what do we have?”